ST. PAULS — The man who says he was behind the removal of Tommy Lowry as schools superintendent now has a long-time member of the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County in his crosshairs.
Ben Chavis and Thomas Graves, the newly named schools superintendent, went before the St. Pauls Board of Commissioners on Thursday in a surprise visit and encouraged the board to work to remove Mike Smith from the school board.
“He wanted to tear down your schools,” said Chavis, an educator best known for his work with an American Indian charter school in California. “He works for Lumbee Bank and he don’t care about you, white people or black people over here. All he cares about is, he votes for the Indians all the time to destroy our schools and our communities. If he’s elected again, I’m going to blame you guys.”
Chavis, who often calls himself “policially incorrect,” is a Lumbee Indian, but frequently targets fellow Lumbees for his criticism. He told a reporter for The Robesonian that Lowry, an educator for about 40 years in Robeson County, was a “loser,” and that he was the impetus for Lowry’s firing earlier this week. He also introduced the school board to Graves.
Chavis said he will campaign against Smith, but St. Pauls has to pick a candidate.
“I’ve traveled all over the country working for schools,” he said. “Robeson County has never hired me because I don’t say what those dumb Indians want me to say. I’m Indian, but what the Indians have done to this county is wrong in the school system. They cheated the whites and they cheated the blacks and the Mexicans. We’ve got 400 Mexican kids in this school over here. Twenty percent of the kids are Mexican and we’ve got one Mexican employee.”
Smith has been on the school board since 1990 and is up for re-election in 2018.
“I’ve had four phone calls about that this morning already, that’s pretty interesting,” said Smith, who has served as chairman and vice chairman several times on the board. “I don’t want to comment. I don’t want to help add to what they are doing. I’ll let my record stand for itself.”
Chavis praised the St. Pauls commissioners, and said he bought a house there last year.
“You are conservative, moreso than those idiot liberals in Lumberton. … If you ever put a homeless shelter in downtown, like they did in Lumberton, I will not buy a thing here,” Chavis said.
Before Chavis’ remarks, Graves assured commissioners that he would make sure St. Pauls schools are not overlooked.
“St. Pauls is just as important as any other community around in terms of schools. We’re going to work on equity spending,” Graves told commissioners.
There was applause to that remark and thanks from some commissioners.
“If you’re that committed and you do what you say, then you’ve got our support in anything you need,” said Commissioner Elbert Gibson.
Graves and Chavis alluded to a school consolidation plan floated last summer that would have closed 30 schools and provided for the constuction of 14 new ones, including a technical school. It died when key legislation that was needed in Raleigh was not approved.
Graves said there is no need to build new schools.
Thomas Hagens the chief of police, said St. Pauls has the largest elementary school in the county with more than 1,000 students.
“We’ve been trying for three years to get a resource officer for that school,” Hagens said. “I understand the money situation with the storm and everything, but they really need one.”
Hagens said he sends a resource officer from the middle school to the elementary school two hours a day.
Graves said he will look into it, pledging to spend more on staff in schools and less on personnel in central office.
“I’ll save you more money in the first two months to pay my salary seven times because it’s called being fiscally responsible,” Graves said.